By SHUJA MALIK
BOLOGNA—I had just walked onto the SAIS Europe campus for the first time. Like a hip, modern person I had just updated my Facebook status to “First day of grad school!” The first session I attended turned out to be the first Professional Development Course, giving advice to students on how to write a good résumé. I could not help but laugh because 48 hours prior, I had had a pretty decent job!
All of us are here for different reasons, but a big one is to improve our employability. As we slug through the end of the year job/internship scramble, it might be worthwhile to revisit the basics. Most of this stuff is easier said than done, and somewhat cliché, but it is nonetheless valuable to remember. Here are bits of career advice I wish someone had given me ten years ago (they probably did!).
- Carpet Bombing Does Not Work!
Responding to every ad in the paper does not work (or SAISWorks or Google search results, fine! no one uses the newspaper for this anymore). As unemployed and penniless graduate students, we all suffer from what I call “job desperation goggles.” I used to look at every job and think to myself “hey, I can totally do this! This is very relevant to me!” Do not do that. It might be counter-intuitive but the probability of you finding a job does not depend on the total number of jobs you apply to. Do not waste your time applying to jobs you have only a marginal chance of getting. It is a waste of your time and effort.
- Networks Matter
The sad reality is that quite often jobs are awarded to people employers already know and are comfortable with. Therefore, network as much as you can, but optimize your networking efforts as well. Do not just target the top managers. In my experience, contacts can help you get your foot in the door, so to speak, and you should aim to compete on your own merits from there on in. Usually middle management can help you achieve this goal.
- Approach Interviews As Conversations
I know we prepare strong answers for those difficult questions, but in my experience, the interviews that I have done best in are the ones where it turned into a conversation not just about the job but about my relationship with my work. I was once asked in an interview, “What is a router?” After answering, I was asked if I knew what a smart router was. I smiled and said, “I am not sure, but I am guessing the previous one must be a dumb router.” I got the job.
I am not advising you make a mockery of the proceedings but rather that you remember, outside certain specific fields like consulting, people are not necessarily looking for specific answers. Research your employer as much as you can before the interview and then just go for it. Never forget that the interviewer is a person who probably has sat through numerous interviews with prospective candidates. Maybe they need a laugh, too.
- Be Patient
Definitely easier said than done! But it is important. Increased stress will only negatively impact your application. Believe in yourself. You have worked hard. You have a degree from a good school. Do the best that you can and that is all that you can do. Things will come together. They might take a little longer. Find one activity that allows you to reset your stress level. For me, it was walking aimlessly for a couple of hours. Some people sleep it off, some hit the gym hard. Find yours soon. God knows you will need it.
And once you get your first job, remember, contrary to what your mom is telling you, you are not going to change the world on day one. I have been doing things that I have loved for nearly ten years now. If you are able to do something meaningful once a week, that’s a good week. Jobs come with huge portions of boring, un-sexy responsibilities. Bear with it and do your time in the trenches. It might even seem inefficient. Everyday will not be meaningful. Cherish the ones that are. If you find yourself in the developing world, listen to the locals. They might not be able to communicate the nuance in a foreign language but they are an important resource. Lastly, and probably most importantly, it is never too early to save. Set a percentage of your paycheck and put it in a different account and lose the ATM card for that one. You will thank me later. Good luck, dear friends. May the Gods be kind to us.